Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays - and what they all mean

Santa Claus
The dhredel
Christmas trees
Pomegranites
The Nativity

All of them are symbols of the holiday season. Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanza - December is a sacred month for several belief systems. Understanding why some thing are relevant, and to which belief system can be a challenge for any child, even more so for an autistic child who has trouble making connections.

My friend asked me to search for one book that explained all of the season's stories in simple easy to understand language. She wanted a book that not only dealt with the belief systems but also discussed the numerous stories that are told at this time of year - Father Christmas, Black Pete, and Frosty just to name the first three that popped into my head.

I couldn't find such a book. So my challenge to you, and myself, is to share a holiday story or tradition. I'm going to spend the year gathering them all together(a task I suspect could actually take much longer) as a gift for my friend's son next year. Different cultures celebrate in a multitude of ways. This young man, is questioning all of them. I'd like to give him some answers.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Need to know

Lani Diane Rich is a wonderful time sink for me. Her books and blogs always make me think, and laugh. Or laugh and think. It doesn't matter in which order but there's insight mixed in with the amusing bits.

The other day she wrote this about a self published book that is brilliant. It's called Need to Know by Christine Merrill. And I got sucked into the excerpt on Christine's website. So deeply entranced was I that I was almost late for work.

Need to know is a self published book by a published author. Apparently the book defies marketing's ability to slot it into genres. It's a little bit of several things. It's unfortunate that publishing has those parameters because they're losing a great story. It's fast-paced, descriptive and I was hooked right away. It is a good read. But don't believe me, or Lani. Go check it out for yourself. Then go tell Christine.

John Grisham started out self-published and selling books out of his car trunk. It's a lot faster, and less suspicious, to use the Internet these days to help Christine sell copies.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Creativity

I've been crazy busy trying to get all of my holiday gifts made. Playing with lots of fibre and yarn has fed my creativity quite a bit in the last few weeks. Something about all of that colour and texture just makes me happy.

On Sunday I went to the Fiber Garden - and didn't buy a thing.

The guys had some beautiful fibre - bison, Icelandic and targhee. There were several skeins of merino hand dye that I adored but they were laceweight. I'm not proficient in lace yet.

One of the other things that stopped me was the realization that I have two writing projects that desperately need my attention. My spinning wheel inspires a great deal of material for the sweater book but even she's been silent the last couple of weeks. Until all of the holiday gifts are complete I have to manage my time very carefully.

One thing I've been sure to do is spend a few minutes every day with my writing. I've alternated between Heal Casey and Hell to Pay. Not much gets done by this method but progress, no matter how minor, is a step forward instead of standing still.

Right now my creativity is racing in many different directions. I'll let you know where it all leads.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reasons I haven't written this week

I've knit four scarves, two hats and one shawl.

Casey just did a head stand in order to fit the entire earth in his mouth. He used his brace slightly for leverage. Ky has the world now.

Gene Kelly in a sport coat wandering the fields of Scotland. (Brigadoon)

Cary Grant striding up the gangplank in a full suit and tie, complete with hat (Houseboat)

Fred and Ginger. Forget Dancing with the Stars - these two set the standard over seventy years ago.

All that romance, gentlemanliness and grace have made it difficult to look at my crude demon with any enthusiasm. Truth be told, those movies were great research. I need to get away from the hard core erotic word choices in some of my scenes. They give the wrong flavour for the book. These three classic movie stars may be old-fashioned but their wit and style are full of taste.

I'll get back to Hell to Pay shortly. Right after I watch North by Northwest

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Computer vacation

I've taken a serious vacation from my computer the past week. I've been editing on hard copy. There's something about all the handwritten words scribbled in purple all over the neatly typed pages. It's a visual cue that the story is gaining substance. While I still haven't settled onto one project, progress is being made on both fronts.

I don't know about you but when so much is going on inside my head, I get quieter. I can chitchat with the best of them but once it's time to get down to work, I do it. Less time is spent in my own conversations when I'm listening to my characters. I used to process out loud. The sound of my own voice often led me to some interesting insights.

I'm not sure what changed but lately I need silence. I need the peace that comes from the hearing pen scrape across the page. The crisp Autumn air fills my lungs, the rain splashes against the leaves and my brain gets to work. Perhaps it's the continued mild weather. Perhaps it's the noise in the rest of my life. Whatever caused this new working method, I have no real desire to examine it too closely. It's working. I'll switch it up if this stops.

In the meantime, don't expect much in the way of profound thoughts. I'm distracted with the work in front of me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Platitudes

"Confidence - fake it til you feel it."
"If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will." Which is usually followed by "It's not rocket science. Anybody can write a book."

It's amazing to me that we even continue to write. Through life dramas, illness, jobs, and day-to-day living, authors still carve out enough time in their day,whether it's pre-dawn or past the witching hour, to create little worlds in which the rest of us can escape.

I'm sure you could sense my growing despondence with the lack of progress in my own writing career. A lot of it was generated by unrelated issues that crept into all aspects of my life. While most people were encouraging about the writing, one friend was about two sentences away from sharing the idea of monkeys producing Shakespeare, aka the 10,000 monkey theorem.

That's when I took a good hard look at why I write; at the sense of accomplishment I feel when the story is told; how powerful it is to create worlds and manipulate characters; how satisfying it is to have total control over that one aspect of my life, whether it comes to my attitude, commitment, dedication or schedule.

What drives me back to the computer time and again is not the platitudes plastered all over office walls and self-help books, but rather the need to know where my imaginary friends are going and how they're going to get there.

Both my curiosity and imagination must be appeased.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

Regardless of politics we pay tribute to these people's lives today - and every day

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dilemma

I spent the afternoon at The Purple Purl with great friends. On the car ride up, a passionate conversation ensued about the sweater book. Book or film? What serves the story better? How best should it be told? Think of all the colours. They are so rich and visual.

Once there, other conversations quickly took precedence while I gave Stashaholic the opportunity to convert more wondering souls to the beauty of spinning. She had a few new drop spindles that made their way into my bag. Sadly, she made me give them back.

I pulled out my Icelandic wool and own heartier drop spindle to show my film buddy. She's always argued for the film version of the sweater book and today was no exception. How could mere words capture the textures and vibrancy of the fleece, yarn and community in which we were immersed?

I'm truly torn. There are compelling arguments for both mediums. Pen and paper are readily available; not to mention self-reliant. It's just me and my thoughts to consider. The film requires a crew and budget to accommodate a trip to Iceland for all of us.

The thing is I have the entire synopsis broken down into scenes, turning points, and character arcs which can be tweaked for either/or. Finally my friend turned to me and spewed the very words I fed her back in May at HotDocs "Write a proposal." Maybe that will help clarify the dilemma. I hope so.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Contemplating

When something doesn't work it's madness to continue. That's not to say one should shift goals but rather the method by which one hopes to obtain those goals. Our local's writer's group did a wonderful experiment several years ago to increase one's productivity. We each made a list of our writing limitations (ie. I can only write on the computer as the click of the keys triggers a creative response) After examining the list our challenge was to write in as many different venues, with as many different tools(pen, paper,sand, branch,pencil, etc.) as possible. Productivity for the group overall increased and mine was shot from a cannon now that I didn't need the laptop.

I feel that I'm standing at another crossroads. For the past year I've been writing something completely different - Casey's non-fiction story. It's hard work, no two ways about it. In one sense I'm merely recording the healing process but in another I'm analyzing our interaction, studying what works and what doesn't then evaluating our roles in all of it. I can't hide behind fiction but have to stare the bald truth in the face and acknowledge the ways in which I've failed as well how I've helped triumph. Honesty is painful.

At the same time, it helps people connect to the subject matter immediately. As soon as you read first person, you're immersed in the story. As a reader and a writer, my preference is for third person. I like omniscience. I'm the person, who not only wants to know everything, often thinks she does.

In the last year as I've worked on Casey's story, while playing with another paranormal and a women's fiction, I've noticed my reading habits have undergone a huge transformation. One of my favourite books in that time frame was The Host. I was shocked at how quickly, and deeply, I identified with the main character given that it was written in first person by an alien. One of my other favourite series was Outlander, also first person. And let's not forget The Art of Racing in the Rain" - another first person point-of-view, even if it is a dog's.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that if readers aren't connecting with my third person protagonists, perhaps it's time to consider first person. That's a daunting task for someone who likes to be omniscient.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nomads

Everyone knows the old adage, "write what you know". My characters are nomads. Most of them haven't lived in a place longer than five years, and most view homes are transitory places of abode. One is just the same as the next. Their attachments are to people not houses. Nea takes that to the next level by not residing anywhere.

I'm not quite that bad but I did grow up on the move. Military families are like that. One never knows when marching orders will come in or where they are sending you. Apart from family and prized possessions, it's a new life every few years.

I'm not only third generation Canadian but my great-grandparents weren't exactly stationary back in Scotland either. My paternal great-grandmother moved every few years as well. The only two siblings who were born in the same village as each other were the twins. Given that great great Grandpa Campbell married a MacDonald may account for some of that moving. But for the most part, I think I just came from people with a low boredom threshold. Both maternal and paternal grandparents changed residences several times in their lifetimes.

As much as I love this area of Niagara, as much as I consider it home and always have (most of my paternal family settled in and around here) we're not exactly well known in the community. We can't trace our lineage back to the founding of the town.

My Dad's cousin's family settled here a little more solidly than our branch. They owned and operated a butcher shop on the main street that it seems like half the town worked for at one point or another in their life. They were support beams, not pillars, for the church. The minister went so far as to call my Aunt Marg a saint the other day at her funeral. Their roots were firmly settled into the ground here. When someone expressed surprise the other day that I was related to them, that they were my people, I felt this clutch in my belly. I was able to see my context in the web of this small town. It was both unfamiliar and welcome.

In that moment, I truly understood what is missing from Nea's life. What few tenuous connections she does have to people and places have all been torn from her. I'm not writing what I know but rather what I thought I knew. What a relief. Who wants to live like a rejected demon?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Connections

I was remiss with a post last week because I was enjoying good friends and great conversation on Stingray Point in Virgina. I'm so used to Internet connections all over the place that I didn't prewrite my post to automatically publish on Sunday. I just assumed (always dangerous) that I could post from the cottage.

While I was away, I did absolutely no writing, not a single word scribbled down, despite the ever present Casey journal and a stack of paper in the living room. What I did was listen to my friends talk about books. There was literally a two hour discussion of a Linda Howard book that her avid fans didn't enjoy. They analyzed what they liked and didn't, why they forgave her that one book and made allowances for trigger points that the author knew nothing about. Those readers have a strong connection to that author's work. They enjoy not only her characters and storylines but her writing style as well.

Robin Sorrentino is a brilliant storyteller. Sitting in a circle of Adirondack chairs and listening to her describe the next project, George's Book, was so much fun. She pointed out the island across the way which served as inspirtation, used her entire body to describe his journey and made us laugh with all of her research questions. We might not all be agile enough to hide out in the trunk of a car but we'd all fit. Just not all at the same time.

It was fascinating to listen to everyone share their love for reading; for good books and excellent story-telling. At any given time over the weekend you could enter any room of the cottage and see someone reading. There were even a few occasions when one person would be reading aloud to others.

As a writer, stuck alone in the attic with only your characters for company, it's easy to lose track of your audience. We get so focused on the words on the page, on making a particular scene shine or another scene come to vivid heart-stopping life, that we lose sight of who we're bleeding on the page for.

It's one thing to write for yourself; and honestly I'm my first reader, I need to feel/enjoy/engage with my project. In order to be a successful author, the connections have to radiate across the sky to bathe a multitude of readers in the warm glow.

That awareness came home with me. I was able to keep an open mind when Kate, my brilliant critique partner, told me how difficult it was to connect with Nea. Demons by their very nature are not sympathetic creatures. Understanding what made her so nasty might make it easier for the Reader to go on this journey with her. So the prologue is written.

Casey is so darn easy to connect with that his story naturally flows. As his journey is ongoing, the challenge will be knowing when to stop writing and just continue to live with him.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Soundtracks

I'm sitting upstairs at my desk, listening to Ky barking his head off (what a visual) at the apartment door. Casey had raced up the stairs and had his head poking through the cat door. He has a strong need to be acknowledged by me first thing every morning.

Right now I can hear him playing downstairs in my parents' living room. He has this funny step-clump stride that comes from the brace hitting the floor. The only time he is silent is when the brace is off. I can hear him pounce on his toys, the crash of the bookcase when he flings his stuffed bear into it and the step-clump bounce move that he does when he's playing ball.

My dad claims he likes to balance his earth-shaped Planet Dog ball on top of the Pilates ball. I've never seen it myself but nothing would surprise me where Casey is concerned.

I mention all this because it's an interesting back drop of sound while I work on the first draft of his story. Unlike my other work, this one is ongoing. Even when I'm not at the computer recording Casey's progress we're living the book. It's happening right now as I type. Sometimes I have to stop writing and go experience it.

When I listen to him play, or watch him leap across the room onto Ky or hear the distinct step-clump on the wooden stairs outside my door I'm reminded that Casey's story isn't just about the medical. It's about what it means to live with him. Day in, day out, through frustration and triumph, he's a blur of energy and exuberance. All he cares about is playing with his pack, getting his belly rubbed or leaning on his people. Figuratively and literally.

Step-clump. Step-clump. Step-clumpstep-clumpstep-clump. This is the soundtrack for his book.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New goals

Hell to Pay is off with my critique partner. I am confident she is completely engrossed and unable to put it down for even the tiniest of instants.

In other news, Stashaholic is visiting this weekend. Which of course means we had to got play with yarn and fibre. A wonderful shop opened up in Jordan Village last week. It's a spinner's delight. The Fibre Garden has a wide range of sheep fleece (we found the Scottish Blackface that I picked up from a field in Scotland) as well as bamboo, silk, corn and milk fibres. I bought a lovely ruby red bamboo to spin with Ky's soft black and white fur. Casey may be telling his story but Ky's creating a sweater. No, it will not have that wet dog smell.

As always, a visit with Stashaholic results in good conversation, our own stimulus of the local economy and a renewed fervor to write the sweater book. The research stage has been a lot of fun.

While I play with our purchases, my next writing goal is to finish the first draft of Casey's story. In the next two weeks. My darling nephew is moving west this week so I'll need a big distraction. I can meet that goal.

Which title do you like best?
Heal, Casey
Casey Heal
Heal Casey, Casey Heal

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deadlines and commitments

Long before I wrote for the newspaper, I wrote to deadlines. They were usually self-imposed but they were a good practice. I still operate that way. Without a publishing contract, it would be very easy for me to write whenever I felt like it. I've certainly slid in my productivity a time or two. But this is a business as well as pleasure, so I impose deadlines.

Whenever I dally too long on research or goof off with other things, I give myself a writing goal. Last week was creeping along until I realized I had a writer's meeting tonight. So I sat down every day to input Hell to Pay from the page on to the computer. At the same time I was playing with Casey's story. I intend to have a rough draft of his saga on paper by the middle of October.

Today's deadline looms. I'm making great progress towards it. If I don't meet it then I'll finish up by Wednesday to give the ms to my critique partner later in the week. Barring the discovery of any great plot holes or character deficiencies, I'll be sending that project out at the beginning of next month.

It's important to make and meet deadlines, even self-imposed ones. That commitment to your craft can make all the difference in this business. You're more likely to get the book written.

Douglas Adams was always one of my favourite writers. But his legendary inability to make a deadline means that readers were denied a great deal more of his work. Not that I have the audacity to compare my writing to his brilliant perspective but that deadline flaw keeps me at it when I'd rather be sitting on the porch drinking a glass or three of wine. Due to Adams's sudden death in 2001, The Salmon of Doubt remains unfinished. A book published under that title contains several short stories, interviews and essays and the eleven chapters from the unfinished sequel to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's an unsatisfying end to a story that has spanned thirty years, every medium available in his time and a great deal of joy.

It also serves as a valuable reminder to reject his famous quote, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Crash

After finishing the revisions on HTP last week, my productivity hit a wall. I did go to Niagara Falls and wander around Alex's place, took a few pictures and stared at the water rushing over the edge. My friend Theresa completely understood the siren call of the river but agreed that it's difficult to express the strength of that call without actually experiencing it. That conversation gave me something to consider when I'm inputting the changes this week.

Casey's story is progressing in the journal. In reality, we went for another brace adjustment and a swim. He's holding his leg up more than I think he should so I'd like to put Pilates back into his routine even though the brace gives him more flexibility now. I suspect his therapy will be ongoing throughout his life.

Wednesday was our anniversary. It's been one year since that brown bundle of fut bounced through the front door and completely rearranged our lives. There have been some tough times but all worth it to see the joy on his face as he greets each morning.

My writing goal this week is to get back to the computer and actually input all of the work I've done this month. HTP first, then Casey's journal. I can see the pages falling off the calendar. Where has this month gone?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Can't talk. Writing.

I've been using Twitter (over there in the right of my sidebar) to keep track of my progress. It's been good. In fact, I might actually finish the edits on Hell to Pay late tonight or tomorrow. I've been handwriting Casey's journey. Pretty pleased with myself.

After this, I'll be inputting everything into the computer. And that's where I fall down. I've been changing desks, painting office furniture and trying to get outside to enjoy the end of summer. Who wants to be stuck at the computer any more than necessary right now?

But I set myself a challenge. To write every day for as long as Maggie Shayne is on her 40 Day Challenge. That is her non-negotiable deadline. I jumped on it for support. I'm honestly not sure where we are in the timeline but I'd guess about halfway. It's my goal to have the first draft of Casey's Journey, and the final version of HTP by the end of the 40 days.

So while it's always great to chat with you, I have some work to do. We'll talk again soon. I have to go write.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pirating

I was driving in rush hour traffic on the DVP in Toronto the other day when a line from The Art of Racing in the Rain came to me. "The hands go where the eyes go." I couldn't remember if the quote was your hands/eyes or the hands/eyes so I looked for the book when I got home. Couldn't find it anywhere. I must have lent it to someone. I loved that book and shared it with everyone who expressed an interest. I work at a library. Lending books is something I do.

My nephew maintains that burning music is the same thing.I'm fairly rigid about copyright law. I don't want my stuff stolen so why would I steal? Karma pretty much rules my life. Burning music and movies is not the same as sharing a book. I've had many a debate with friends and family on the subject of pirating. The word "pirating" doesn't say it all?

In the case of books, either the library or I have bought and paid for those books,CDs and movies. In several cases, we've paid for a special license in order to share them. When you rip a file onto your computer, the artist/publisher/studio wasn't reimbursed for that property. And if everyone pirates and no one pays then the artist/publisher/studio will go bankrupt. In that scenario there are no more books/music/movies. It's a simplified black and white equation. There have been many arguments made for pirating. I just don't buy any of them.

I am constantly amazed at the number of artists/performers/writers who pirate other people's work. I don't understand it. If you really don't want to pay for that article, then go take it out of the library. Don't steal it off the Internet. If you want to share it with someone then tell them where to get it or buy it for them as a gift.

Is pirating different from taping/TiVoing/DVRing your favourite television show? Those shows aren't for sale. Revenue isn't being lost, unless you count the fact that people zip through the commercials. Is the primary difference borrowing versus keeping?

The sale of Intellectual Property, is hotly debated by people far smarter than I. Computers and the Internet make everything so accessible. That doesn't make it right to take. Educate yourself.

Jumping down off today's soapbox. Kinda high. Anyone want to sell a ladder?

After writing the above I went surfing and stumbled across this post that explained it all from an author's perspective. Piracy sunk a series.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Unexpected sources

One of the things this week has reminded me of is the fact that the more frequently you write, the more productive you are. Not just because obviously you're increasing your output by sheer persistence but also because you gain momentum.

That said, I've just spent a significant portion of the day outside trying to repair my pond. It's leaking but darned if I can find the source of it. In an effort to see all four sides of the structure, I ripped out some weeds, a giant pumpkin plant that had migrated from who knows where and long vines of honeysuckle that trailed into the pond.

I don't wear gardening gloves. I love the feel of dirt squishing between my fingers and beneath my nails. I like separating roots by feel rather than tugging til they snap. I enjoy the green stain from crushed leaves and the way my skin carries that aroma long past a thorough scrubbing with soap and water. There are disadvantages to that practice.

Today I learned that honeysuckle is stronger than I thought. It sliced across my fingertips and my palm when I tried tugging one tender young vine from the ground. Holy smokes, it was tough. You could make rope out of it. Or use it to garrote someone(I'm reading Jeffrey Deaver novel at the moment). My fingers are screaming at me.

Because I've been in writing mode (diligently making my goal every night before bed, if not sooner) I wondered about other plants and how they could be used as weapons. While Bracken and Bryna have been shoved to the background, I couldn't help but think of the world they inhabit and how they would use the resources at hand. But if the plants are living things, would the H/H sacrifice the vegetation to stop their enemy?

Shoot. I did not want to get sucked into their story. I've been doing great this week with Casey's. But I love when one unrelated activity leads me back to writing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I just spent a great twenty-four hours with my friend Elen. We talked about writing, drank wine, ate real stovetop popcorn and brainstormed. One of the things I enjoy most about her company is Elen's word choices. She used reciprocity in a sentence in such a way that I rolled that word around in my head all morning long. She inspires me to step up my game and stretch my vocabulary. She renews my faith in humanity, in writers, in the industry. She reminds me that writers are some of the most prolific readers as well and that if we can entertain each other we're doing well.

I showed her my spindle and Icelandic fleece. We discussed the sweater book in detail as well as the way I'm being pulled in at least three different directions. Elen had some great suggestions for how to deal with that. I'll explore those over the next few days and see how viable they all are.

We also spent a considerable amount of time poring over each other's vacation photos as well as Jon Gustaffson's photography. He's quite talented and should update his website more often. Regardless, his creativity never fails to ignite mine.

All of that combined to send me home with a renewed enthusiasm and purpose for writing. I have several different avenues to explore as well as a concrete plan and some goals.

Maggie Shayne is writing a book in forty days - and blogging about the process. You all know how much I love a writing challenge. She's doing a great job of meeting her daily goal. So I'm going to play along at home. From now until Maggie reaches her goal, I'm going to write, or edit, five pages a day. Once in a writing regimen, it will be easier to stay on track.

It begins tomorrow. Anyone else want to join in?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Write what you know

For the past fifteen years, I've been trying to think of how to write bout an interesting four month period in my life. One of my concerns was libel but if I only told my part of the story I might be able to avoid that. I've never be sure where to start. Chronological makes the most sense but isn't necessarily the most interesting. I tried fictionalizing it once but got frustrated when what really happened messed with my plot, or vice versa. So I turned it into a great ice-breaker conversation at parties or with people that intimidated me.

For reasons beyond my control, and against any sane rational arguments, I had lions and a tiger living in the garage where I lived. It was a very bad idea, and poorly managed but the cats and I did our best with what we had. I'm not sure if it was the sound of my voice, the companionship or the subject material but they would listen intently every night, gathering to the ends of the pen where I sat on the haystack reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

This week I lost my last tangible link to that time frame. Hera, the tiny little Tabby cat that taught me everything I know about felines, succumbed to kidney failure. That's her in the header when she was about a week away from giving birth to four kittens. Seriously. She was always tiny.

She was a stray living in my neighbour's barn when she first crawled beneath my garage door. Fortunately, I was in there tending to the lions. Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to scoop her up. One of the guys who was supposed to look after the big cats, grabbed the kitten and stuck her in front of the adolescent male lion's face. Zeus sniffed the kitten and she retaliated by popping him on the nose with her wee paw. He was horrified and jumped to the back of his pen.

Eventually I had to keep her in the house because she was fascinated by Zeus and his sister (that's his tail in the left of the picture) Sadly this is the only photograph that remains of the lions and Hera(who else had the temerity to face down the all mighty Zeus). When the lions moved on from their temporary hide-out, Hera remained with me.

She was a tough little spirit disguised in a tiny package. She had the heart of a lion, and more courage than Zeus. She reminded me every day that things are not always as they appear, that we're more resilient than we can imagine and that resilience comes from being flexible. Bend what you're given to make it work.

The other night I dreamt that she was curled beside Zeus's belly, the two of them sleeping, and I knew beyond a doubt that it was time to let her go. I'll miss her head butts.

Maybe some day I'll be able to tell the story of lions in the garage. Until then, I have some great memories about the kitten who punched the lion in the nose.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Symbols

For as long as I can remember I was looking for my special ring. I knew it was out there somewhere. I rooted through junk tables, flea markets and jewelry boxes. I didn't know what it looked like and assumed it was a ruby. Not sure why that stone other than its dark hue appealed to me.

Almost twenty years ago my mom's friend was sorting through necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings. I don't remember what we were even talking about but she handed me a plain silver ring and suggested I try it on. It fit perfectly. I have ridiculously large man hands so that was no small feat that. The friend looked at me, looked at my hand and told me to keep the ring. It had been her grandmother's back when she worked at Balmoral Castle eighty years ago. Of course I refused to take it. It was this woman's family heirloom. But it looked like it belonged on my hand. It felt like it belonged. And I stopped searching for my ring because there it sat; no ruby but mine never-the-less.

I rarely take it off. For a variety of reasons, many of which I can't explain, that ring is part of my identity. There are times when it melts itself into my finger and I have to remove it for both of our sakes. It is almost a living symbol of endurance and persistence.

On Thursday it caught on a case of canned dog food while I was at work. Emotion swamped me. It took a couple of days for the injury to my hand to reveal itself but there was enough force in freeing the ring that this is what it now looks like...

My wrist is sprained as is my ring finger. I'm typing for the most part with one hand. I'm ambidextrous enough that my hand-writing and most other activities are passable. Driving is more difficult than I expected. I'm managing. It's only a sprain. But the split in the ring...it's quite likely it is repairable. It will be smaller which means it won't fit on my finger anymore.

I feel naked and vulnerable without it, emotionally as well as physically. I've tried wearing other rings but they don't feel right. I spent so much of my life looking for that one ring that it's irreplaceable. At some point, another ring will come along and forge a bond with me but not yet.

I'm reflecting not only on the way we found each other but the many stories this ring has told me over the years. Hopes lost and found, long journeys, multiple owners, star-crossed lovers, a link to the past, to other lifetimes, a pledge of loyalty and troth.

An inanimate object to you, a repository of my life.

Ring Update - the jewelry repair shop now has it. In ten days it will be back in my possession and on my finger. They are going to add silver to maintain the size. They suggested I reshank it but that reeks of a prison term to me so I declined. It actually means they replace the band that fits palm side on your finger and holds the decorative piece together. My finger and hand are a tad bruised and it's now been a week but thanks to an incredible massage and adjustment, I can type again. Whee! No excuse not to write. Except I'm taking Casey for a swim in the pool. So it's research. If you can call it that.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Progress

I was at a family reunion yesterday. When asked what I was writing now, I answered with my typical three projects. I really do like all three of them. Very much. That's why I bounce from one to the other to the other. I like the characters, I like their stories and the plots. When I get stuck because I need to do research on Iceland I play with the spinning wheel. Then I get all tangled up in fibre and go play with Casey. When he smacks me with his brace one too many times, or digs up my garden or knocks me to the ground in his enthusiasm, I go back to the nymphs. And so the cycle goes.

Yesterday though I noticed how my voice changed when I gave outlines of the three projects. We've had so much success with Casey lately that his is the story I'm telling the most often. I've got more pages written on it, although notes-wise all three projects are equal. His story also has the most photographs attached, and I do love playing with my camera. I've been playing with before and after shots of his leg for Niagara Dogfest. A couple members of Casey's healing team will be there. He's going to show off his progress.

While it's true that a picture paints a thousand words, it's my job to explain how, apart from learning how to focus, this
became this.


It's such a joy to write.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Excuses, excuses

My word count was low this week, as was my progress. I had planned to finish a read-through of Hell to Pay before passing it off to my critique partner. I had not planned on getting called into work a few extra shifts, two sleepless nights and a thorough mutiny of my brain cells.

Not much got done. But as I was walking out to my car last night after working twelve hours, my first thought was, "I can't wait to get home and write. Write? Who am I kidding?" I was hard-pressed to say my own name at that point. I'm not twenty years old any more. Those double shifts take more out of me than I'd like to admit.

Next week won't be much better. I'm hoping I get more sleep so that I can at least tolerate the work hours better. I have been carting a small notebook around with me so that any random writing thoughts get recorded. There's absolutely no way I'm trusting my memory at this point.

I don't even have the energy to drive past the Brooding Tree to get back into setting.


What do you do to keep the writing in the forefront when life tries to push it out of the way?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Options

Most of you will remember last summer when Stashaholic and I spent a crazy weekend watching documentaries, drinking wine and searching for Highland Cows.

I actually took this photograph in Scotland but we didn't travel that far

That was the weekend she became obsessed with a sweater and I with an Icelandic fleece. It was also the conception of two of my current projects and one big dilemma. As I've previously mentioned, I'm now spinning. Stashaholic completely enabled me with the gift of the lovely spindles in my header. Several weeks ago she introduced me to this lovely girl, who has yet to tell me her name but now that we live together I'm sure she'll tell me soon.


This is research. Honestly. I cannot write about spinning if I don't know how to spin. While the sweater book was intended to appease both of our obsessions. I did get to spindle some nice Icelandic fleece...

... but I still want to go to Iceland and pick up some fleece straight from the source.

I have a lot to learn about spinning. A lot. It's hard to write the experienced character's viewpoint when I haven't a clue what she's talking about. Filming that learning process could make for a good how-to video. The making of that video could be easily quite entertaining. Every time I watch this I think how much easier it is to fictionalize that whole process. Writing only requires pen, paper and my imagination. Film-making is a team effort. So far I haven't convinced any of the players to join the team. I'm not sure I should try.

Perhaps it's best to wait until the book is written before I worry about film options.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Priorities

Typically writers aren't the best housekeepers. It's a bit of a cliche but it's based on priorities. We focus on those things that require our personal attention. Anyone can clean our house, but we're the only ones who love our families in just that special way. Or write the stories that we do.

We are unique. Not just as writers or families but as human beings. And sometimes we have to make choices that encompass all of our individual characteristics, foibles and passions.

After a great night of good conversation with another creative friend, I realized that I've completely abandoned Hell to Pay. I finished the edit, put it aside to give to my critique partner then started on the three projects currently vying for my attention. Then life happened. I went to Scotland, started a library course and bought a spinning wheel(more about that in another post)

Hell to Pay needs to come out for another read-through before it's sent out to find an audience. Alex and Nea deserve at least that much. Playing with Bracken and Bryna has kept their story closer to my memory than if I was working with characters they'd never met. They're quite an interesting couple and their challenges were unusual. I had lived with Alex for so many years it was nice to focus on someone, anyone, else for a change.

It's time to give him back the attention he needs. Hell to Pay has moved to the top of the writing priorities. Just as soon as I clean the house. I need room to spread out the papers for editing. See, it's always about writing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

Writers are well aware of the importance of setting and time periods for their stories. Culture, climate and world events can add tension and drama to the simplest of stories. The subtext adds depth.

Energies are different throughout the year. Winter blahs can't compete to summer frolics. Spring is bursting with life, Autumn fades into winter. There is a reason we discuss life in terms of seasons. No matter how Goth some people look, they don't have the weight of life experience someone in their winter years carries on their stooped shoulders and lined faces.

There are other rhythms within the seasons; days, nights, weeks, weekends. They all give off different energies which can further be defined by the season of your life. There's so much going on in every moment that the context of time is interesting to me.

If you're a plant-based life form Summer Solstice holds great significance for you. You're at the height of your growing season, and power. If this is a novel about identity, Summer Solstice can be either a good beginning or fitting climax. Use the energy surrounding the longest day of the year to heighten the character's drama or increase the plot's tension.

Bracken is in the summer of his life. But he's failed to reach his full potential. While I'm easily influenced by the season outside my windows, it's important to nail down exactly what rhythms have the most influence on him. Regardless, he's a plant-based life form and the sun's strength is crucial to his growth. How would he survive without it?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life, art and the whole ball of yarn

I need a writing challenge. While all three projects are progressing as far as research goes, words are not filling pages. Part of it has to do with the work load I came back to; part of it is lethargy that lingers from my throat infection; and part of it comes from other commitments. Not that I'm complaining; we make our priorities. Some are easier than others to meet.

One of the best things I've found to keep my mind on writing when my hands are otherwise occupied is to surround myself with objects, artifacts and photographs that remind me of the current wip. Casey is easy enough. I pet him every single day. And admire how well he walks with his new brace. In all likelihood that is the project I'll finish up first. I'm able to see the big picture on his story, and why it's one for me to tell(as opposed to other people who work in animal rehabilitation). I need to take some action photos of him playing in the yard.

As for the other two projects, Stashaholic is visiting for her college reunion. Many years ago, I hired her to work as my sound editor. Several of her classmates worked on that film in other capacities. It was a blast to meet up with them last night and realize how much I still love to tell stories. I simply use another medium now.

So does Stashaholic. Watching her spin fleece into wool, then knit it into a sweater is wonderful. Each fiber has its own story, can only be told in a specific way. Not all of it translates well into mittens or scarves. Some of it actually begs to be a lacy wrap or dressy sweater.

She brought her spinning wheel and several fibers with her as well as one sweater, a sock, and a shawl for me to work on. Reading through her spinning magazine is like walking into a buffet. There's almost too much to take in. Wheels, bobbins, fiber, twists, drumcarders and the list goes on. Fortunately, Callie has more to learn than I do, and so far the research is fun. There are a lot of textures to keep my mind on that story. I now have my own bag of Icelandic fleece to play with. Stashaholic finds it coarse. I like it. That probably says something about both of us. We haven't had a chance to play with the fleece I gathered from the field in Scotland. Soon.

Until I start a writing challenge that will brook no excuses, I pet the yarn, fondle the fern's leaves(Bracken considers it his due)and drool over the photos of an Icelandic summer.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I had the most incredible visit with my Great Grandpa in the town he emigrated from - Dunfermline. This is us at the train station. The experience was too personal to relate here. In fact, I'm still processing it a week later. I understand so much more about my life choices after that journey.

The entire trip was an eye-opener. It's not so much about how much I learned as much as it was the things that I had confirmed. Good research, anecdotal images and great intuition served me well for the Scottish scenes in Hell to Pay. What I didn't know is how prevalent Bracken fern is. It grows everywhere - with great tenacity.
It gave me some great insight into Bracken's character. I also bought a fossil of bracken fern. I was impressed with how much information I gathered for Rootless Trees.

In the Land of Sheep, the Sweater Book was never far from my mind. Fleece was littered all over the ground. I stuffed my pockets with as much as I could carry. That led to some research about how to clean it so that it would be safe to bring home. I might not have enough to actually do anything with but it will be fun to play with. It's interesting how soap and water changed the texture somewhat. Of course that was all research as Callie and Tess need to clean the fleece they get from the Icelandic sheep. It was a time consuming process but fascinated me. Water really loosened the fiber so that I could pick out debris. Drying loosened it further. I'm anxious to actually spin it and see what happens to the colour and consistency then.

Walking along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh a couple of days later, I found just the tool to try it with.

These are the sheep from whom that tuft came.

The trip to Scotland was a well-needed vacation with several friends. Who knew it would turn into an excellent fact-finding mission as well? Every moment there was a joy. 1900 pictures and I repeat last week's post but honestly these moments, and blog,are supposed to be writing related. The rest of it was was not as blatantly so but don't you think this guy's story would be interesting?



Thanks to Sheena, Tracey, Moira, Gordon and Theresa for being amazing hosts and showing me how incredible a country Scotland is

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Celebrating Writers

It's refreshing to be in a country where writers are not only appreciated, but revered. Edinburgh, in particular, knows how to celebrate their rich history with wordsmiths. There's a Writer's Museum devoted to the lives and works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott and Robbie Burns. Literary pub tours leave from the museum every day to explore the literary connection with a variety of pubs in the area. The sidewalk is engraved with quotes from many authors who have entertained in the years since these great men. The Elephant House was not only the alleged birthplace of Harry Potter. It is also frequented by Ian Rankin and Alexander McColl-Smith.

It's hard not to be inspired by the attention that writers attract around here. This may be a holiday but Bracken has really come alive for me here. I didn't get to his home just outside Dunkeld but a walk along Loch Lee gave me a great sense of his character. Bracken fern is prevalent along there, growing abundantly and with tenacity in some instances where it clung to the rocks. The stags we saw to the right of the trail were magnificent; not to mention the damage their hooves do to the young ferns.

What really made that day a writing experience was the fleece I found at the bottom of the keep. Every few steps there was another clump. After awhile I had stuffed my pockets as full as possible. I doubt there's enough to make a hat. As I desperately wanted to safely bring it home, I emailed Stashaholic and asked her how to clean it. There I was, in my friend's flat with buckets and soap and towels cleaning and washing the fleece. There was some interesting vegetation in there - and some other stuff I didn't examine too closely. I did make notes for the Sweater Book.

Do you think Walter Scott hid in the hills or went raiding in order to give authenticity to Rob Roy?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roots

After some discussion with Kate my critique partner, Rootless Trees is moving locations. It actually increases the conflict to move from North Carolina to Niagara. The move was precipitated by my complete lack of knowledge regarding that state.

Brynja and Bracken started speaking to me once I made that decision. While his roots are in Scotland, Bracken's past is in Niagara. Brynja has no idea where her roots are. In the process of searching for her past, she's running away from all that is familiar.

While I can't trace my lineage back 800 years like some people, I have a good sense of who my people are. As you read this, I'm walking the land of my forefathers. I've taken a backpack and a suitcase in search of the start point for my Grandpa's trunk.

I plan to tromp all over Dunkeld, Dundee and Dunfirmline to explore Bracken's roots and my own. All these years after first hearing Grandpa Fenton's stories about his homeland, I'm experiencing it for myself.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

HotDocs

HotDocs was an experience. I went up there as an audience member rather than as a participant. Part of my intention was to get a feel for the documentary film festival as it's the setting for the climax of one of my w-i-ps.

One of the things I discovered was that the industry people had better parties than the audiences. The website said no tickets required so my friend and I crashed it. I also learned that pitching at a film conference is the same as at a writer's conference; nerve-wracking and thought consuming, but with much better props.

HotDocs expanded my awareness on many levels. I had drinks and great conversation about the process of film-making with friends at various levels of experience in that business. I had some serious quality time with my nephew wandering through the streets of Toronto while discussing the variety and effectiveness of communication in this day and age.

I walk around with my eyes raised to the sky and as such tend to be oblivious to what's going on around me. I know there is corruption and injustice in the world. I know there are people who don't care who or what they hurt in their quest for power, wealth or status. I also realize that exposing those stories makes for interesting documentaries.

One of my favourite parts of HotDocs was listening to the filmmakers talk about their experiences, or reasons for making their films. After The Cove, Simon Hutchins said he'd never set out to be an activist. It was a natural progression from observing the destruction of the world's oceans.

I was still thinking about his words a few days later as I walked to work in my red shirt. I'm dedicated to being non-political but still have many issues I care about. I strive to teach through example, to show rather than tell. If I don't wear placards, protest or shout my opinion to the world, does that make my commitment any less?

How does all of this relate to writing? To a certain extent, we can only write that which we know; subjects about which we are passionate. Not all documentary film makers are activists. They aren't all part of the stories they document. What they are is driven - to illuminate and educate.

In fiction, message stories tend to alienate their readers. Entertainment is the goal. That's not to say you can't write with an opinion. Just don't let it become the story.

I'm juggling two works of fiction with one non. It's been hard to document Casey's story because I'm part of it. try taking a picture of a seventy pound pup getting cast for a new brace when you're lying on the floor holding him still. I'm not that talented. Or flexible. Because of my involvement and personal experience, I can wave the flag for alternative healing and commitment to animals in the forum of non-fiction.

HotDocs made me take a long hard look at the world in which I live; at the people who inhabit it; and what I'm willing to do to change things. It also clarified certain aspects of the wip that sent me there in the first place.

I'm writing a book about a sweater. A gorgeous sweater. And how one woman's obsession with that sweater affects her relationships. I'm sure there's a message in there but it will be subtle.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Unconventional Mother's Day Tribute

For those of you who find this day a painful reminder of the mother you've lost, or never had, this blog is dedicated to you.

A mother is a female who gives birth to a living being. I am not a mother. But I am a Mama Lion. For lots of reasons I won't go into here, my nephew and I have a closer than usual relationship. Even in utero he always responded to my voice. When he was a day old I sat with him and pointed out all the shapes and colours on his receiving blanket. Everyone thought I was nuts for conversing with him as if he was an adult. Just because he couldn't answer didn't mean he didn't understand me. One of his first words was blue, correctly identified on a giant bear at Sears.

He's always been curious about the world and the way it worked. One time I took my nephew into the bird barn to watch ostriches in the incubator. Five years old and asking questions about gestation periods, incubator temperature, wiring, power failures, how long chicks can survive inside the incubator once they hatch, how they adjust to room temperature. His attention to detail was incredible.

He wrote stories about his stuffed dog Pup in which they cured cancer, saved little children, traveled the world and conquered hunger. He was going to grow up to be a paleontologist/SPCA agent/rock star.

Due to space issues, his playpen was in front of the piano. A little protege, he would pull himself up and instead of pounding on the keys, he would touch them in a way that made music. As he got older he switched to my guitar. At two years old, he was plucking the strings in a way that sent all the adults searching the house for the musician. No one ever believed it was the baby.

As he's grown, we've continued to spend time together. Our conversations are merely advanced versions of the ones we had when he was five. We go to auto races and film festivals together. We discuss the esoteric and the practical. He has a sharp mind, a dry wit and a well of compassion so deep it humbles me.

I'm so proud of this kid who has weathered trauma, heartache and life storms with his heart and soul intact. He's been no different than any other teenager at times but that's never altered who he is at his core.

My lion cub has grown out his mane. Moved to the edges of the pride before he strikes out on his own. He's independent now. Able to fend for himself. I still watch with one eye peeled for danger in case he needs my help. One signal from him and I'll be in there with teeth bared.

He is my boy but he is not my son. I love him. I adore him. I will never leave him. And I understand that can never be enough. I'm not his mother but I couldn't love him any more than if I was.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

How I spent my week

Hiking along the Niagara Gorge with my nephew...

*playing with puppies...

staring into these beautiful brown eyes...

and writing. Three more pages on one book and some really strong insight into character development on the other. It was a good week.

Today I'm off to HotDocs in Toronto. This documentary film festival is the setting for the climax of one of my projects. It's going to be a great week.

*To clarify - these are NOT my puppies. I am not keeping a puppy. I was merely visiting them. They were warm and soft and cuddley. They belong to other people. I already have my hands full with a puppy that does not belong to me. It is Casey's first birthday on the 14th, he gets his new splint on this Tuesday. Yes it really will be a great week.

All photos taken with my Blackberry Storm which I adore. Remember when phones were these big black clunky things with rotary dials and sat on a special table downstairs in the hallway? I do like convenience the Storm affords. And quality photographs.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Again with the perspective

Life is good. I don't have to trek overland through drought parched terrain for a drink of water. Or lose my footing and slide on my belly right into the sharp claws of a hungry cheetah. Why yes, I did go see Disney Earth at the movie theater last night. The cinematography was amazing. Absolutely stunning. There's just something about watching nature in all its tooth and claw on the big screen that makes me realize how easy my domesticated life actually is.

I have my health, mobility and all of my senses. A friend of mine is struggling with ALS, cancer and the stupidity of a drunk driver who punched him in the face last week. The driver almost ran down my friend who was crossing the intersection on his medical scooter. Harsh words were exchanged. Then one brutal punch. Who hits an old man in a wheelchair? Fortunately, the primary witness was a police officer.

I have friends and family, jobs I like, food, shelter and wonderful companions. I'm easily amused and entertained. I get out. Travel. Life is good.

It's not perfect. We all have our trials and frustrations. Watching my friends cope with the imperfections in their lives helps me get perspective on my own.

How many times as writers have we struggled with scenes or characters failing to do what's best for the story? Often, switching the point of view will strengthen it. Who has the most to lose? The most to gain? Who is altered most?

After tossing the impaired driver into the squad car, and taking care of first aid for my friend, the cop asked him,"What's your story?" And that made me think. No matter what angle you see something from, there's always another way to look at it. I'm looking forward to hearing the driver's version. Was it fear, guilt anger or relief that made him get out of his car in the first place? What was he thinking? I'm curious about his point-of-view.

Perspective keeps life, and good reads, interesting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rainy days are made for reading

It's finally a rainy day - perfect for reading. I am grossly unmotivated to do anything else. This past week has been a study in frustration as far as Casey's Journey to a Healthy Leg goes. Unlike my other writing projects, the non-fiction account of Casey's leg trials is ongoing, demanding and exhausting. Nor can it be put aside because I keep dropping the spindle, can't figure out genetics or how Iceland shapes the character of two protagonists.

We are running out of time. Casey will be a year old soon and his bones will start to set. Because of the atrophy in one of his shoulder muscles, he turns his leg at roughly a 35 degree angle. I'm swimming with him every other day, using a Pilates ball on alternate days and sending him out for daily walks and shoulder stretches. The brace keeps his leg straight but the boot does not. The consequences of walking him with the foot turning inside his boot are painful (yay, he has feeling in his foot;boo, it hurts)and damaging to tendons and ligaments. "It's always something."

SO, I'm trying to redesign the entire leg/foot support system.

Which is why I spent last night and today reading.
Travellers Iceland
Let's visit Iceland by I.O. Evans
Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox
Basket Case by Carl Hiassen
Save the Cat: The last book on screenwriting that you'll ever need by Blake Snyder
DK Eyewitness Scotland - Why do they not have one about Iceland???
Fool by Christopher Moore and finally
Men in Kilts by Katie McAlister.

Really. In the last 24 hours I've picked up, started or finished every single one of those books. Somewhere in there lies the answer to this current Casey riddle. Because thinking of it directly has failed to net any results. And Michael J. Fox makes me think I can accomplish anything. It's all attitude.
Truly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Research, research, research

First of all - someone needs to write a really good travel guide to Iceland. I went down to Chapters the other day and looked at the only three books they had on that beautiful country. I bought one as the other two weren't that helpful. I ordered three more through the library. I'll let you know how useful they are but from the quick look I got at all of them, they are lacking.

Stashaholic was here for the weekend. We did the usual red wine, ChedaCorn and a movie. We crocheted our fingers to the bone to finish up a couple of comfortghans. I dropped the ball, or more accurately, ran out of balls, so that I had to do some shopping before we could finish the last one. It's almost done and spread out on the spare room bed.

We also played with fiber and her spinning wheel. Wow, that's a workout. I couldn't believe the pull in my calves, thighs and butt. Way better than Pilates. I reacquainted myself with my three spindles and looked at plenty of sheep. Stashaholic is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on all of the above. I wish I'd taken notes. She's an invaluable resource.

We talked a lot about Sturla's Sweater; both the book and the actual article of clothing. So much of our own interactions, interests and activities are the basis for that book. We watched Wrath of Gods again and tried to freeze the DVD to get the perfect shot of that sweater. It was so like the opening scene that I'd already written, I couldn't help but laugh. No, I don't think he bought this sweater at WalMart.


Thanks to Jon Gustafsson for the still from Wrath of Gods

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The importance of good research

Last week was incredibly productive but not in the way I had expected. Thanks to the mindless bubble popping game I had found the solution to Kelli's identity,as well as a flicker of insight into DNA sequencing. It should have been a simple case of sitting down and writing what I knew.

For some unfathomable reason, Kelli's name was still giving me trouble. A quick email to Jon revealed the problem. Women's nicknames don't end with an "i" but rather an "a". That stopped me cold. He sent me a great link with Icelandic female names that led me to Brynja -which means armor. As her name was changed to protect her, that works. I've spent the last couple of days thinking of Kelli as Brynja.

In the meantime, I spent some time online researching airfare to Iceland. It's an essential scene in Sturla's Sweater. How does Callie decide that they should begin that journey? August has the best deals if anyone is interested. I have to watch Wrath of Gods again soon as that film precipitates the entire story. The opening scene involves that film, a bottle of wine and two life-long friends.

I'm not quite ready to go forward with Rootless Trees. Jon's input made me realize how much we depend on intrinsic knowledge to flesh out our writing. This book has two unfamiliar settings, Iceland and North Carolina. While I'm blessed to have friends who live in both locations, I've never personally walked the ground at either one. There are bound to be mistakes that have the potential to rip the reader out of the book.

That explains why Sturla's Sweater is progressing better. A large chunk of it takes place in surroundings with which I am familiar. The research I have to do is similar to the process one of the characters will go through so it's actually a part of the storyline. It's easier. Not to say it's without its own set of challenges. It does require some footwork in Iceland as well. And some quality time with sheep. But at least I won't blunder character names. Or have to worry about a hard science like genetics. You know that's going to take some serious research.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Distractions

One of the children at the library introduced me to Poppit. Do not click on the link unless you want to lose days.

Pond scum can be skimmed from the surface to reveal clear fresh water beneath the slime. Scum of the earth oozes up from somewhere well below the surface. It's better to date pond scum.

Writing a scene that has its origins in an actual event is much harder than it would seem. It took me awhile but I think I've managed to detach from reality(stop snickering) and start Sturla's Sweater with two wonderful characters who are unique in their own right. They are not Stashaholic and I with younger bodies.

These are three of the things that have amused me while I looked at new names for Kelli. You were all most helpful in that department, even emailing me privately with links and suggestions. Nothing clicked. Absolutely nothing. Because she's Kelli. That's her name. It's been her name for years as she formed and grew in my mind.

Round 12,893 of Poppit and I realized that was the solution. Her name is Kelli. I'll make it the derivative of something Icelandic, or a nickname, then give her a Latina birth name in honour of her mother's roots. Just another connection that was stolen from her.

The moral of the story - follow the distractions. It frees your brain up to work out a solution.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Family

Families are the foundations on which we all grow. Embrace them, reject them; there's no getting away from their influence.

Bracken has turned his back on his family. Kelli has been ripped from hers.
He grew up surrounded by family at every turn, beneath every leaf, inside every tree. His entire life was practically incestuous.

Kelli, on the other hand, was adopted when she was three years old. She has a dim recollection of the petite, accented brunette who ruled her life with love and precision. After her mother's death, Kelli lost everything that was familiar. Including her name.

I'm stuck while I try to find the right name that is completely Icelandic, sounds nothing like Kelli and yet suits her.

Suggestions?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Honesty

A lot of people mistake meanness for honesty. As in "You're already fat. Wearing orange just makes it worse. You look like a short fat pumpkin." No one has said that to me but I've certainly heard it enough. It goes along with, "You're barely literate enough to write your own name. What makes you think you could write a book?" Again, not something that's been said to me.

It would be so much nicer, and just as honest to say, "I like the way you look in red. It really brings out the colour of your eyes." or "There's a great writing course being offered at the community college. At the very least you could make some good connections there." Wait a minute, I have heard the latter. Hmmm.

Rude is not a necessary component for honesty. It's not manipulation to make someone feel good about accepting your opinion. I like bold up-front characters who can be counted on to tell the truth. They call a spade a spade. (I usually call it a shovel but that may be a regional thing.) They're colourful, dynamic characters who really liven a piece up.

How one shares their opinion is one of the many little clues to people's personality. If your character is "painfully honest" be careful with that. Those are difficult people to be around over a long period of time. There's an edge to them that should manifest in other ways. I was toying with giving that trait to one of my characters but hesitate because it's uncomfortable for me to write harsh edicts - which is why I should do it.

Writing outside my comfort zone might make the community college writing course unnecessary.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Heroes

A hero is the protagonist, or main character, who overcomes immense challenges to win the girl and save the world; whether it's on the gridiron, the court, the field, or even out in space. He must beat the bad guy, defeat the obstacles and push on no matter how bleak the outcome appears. He is the hero. That is what he does.

Hero is a word you hear everywhere. Sports figures are heroes. So are entertainers, scientists and businessmen. Anyone whose actions change the lives of others is a hero. Cops, firefighters and soldiers are obvious subjects for romance writers. The men come with their own mythology and code. They define heroism.

It's a word I've heard a lot this week. Three more Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday - Warrant Officer Dennis Brown, Cpl. Dany Fortin and Cpl. Kenneth O'Quinn. The image of WO Brown's widow, Mishelle standing tall and proud as she called her husband, "My hero" has been all over the news media. A true military wife, she was as prepared as she could be for this eventuality. Her husband believed that he had no other choice in life than to protect and defend those who needed him to do so. In his civilian life he was a special constable with the Niagara Regional Police. In the military he was a reservist with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment.

Growing up military, the loss of every soldier is personal. We belong to a community that exists outside of borders, isn't hampered by distance or geography. It's a community that stands together, shoulder to shoulder and back to back, against all threats. While I've never agreed with a lot of where our troops go, they are my family.

When the call came, the men rallied to their fallen brother. They flew in from all corners of the globe to surround his family, his friends and each other. They took care to see he was carried home with respect and compassion. They gathered their grief close and banded together. Four van loads of men drove from the regiment to Trenton so that he came home to familiar faces. Fellow officers were on hand to ensure the police escort was made of guys he knew. People lined the Highway of Heroes to thank the three men for their service to our country.

Heroes. All of them. The people, faces twisted in anguish and grief, who put aside their politics to pay tribute to the three men. The men with red-rimmed eyes and rigid jaws who locked arms to carry the body of their friend. The mothers who stood tall and proud with roses and flags as they welcomed their sons home. The boys who held the salute while their young eyes followed their father's casket. The wives and girlfriends in their bright red scarves determined to stand strong; the friends and families who held tight despite the pain that overwhelmed them all; the ones who stood for hours in high winds to honour the men who passed below.

If heroes overcome adversity to win the day, each and everyone of those people did so this week. And will continue when Dennis finishes his journey home and is laid to rest.

Non Nobis Sed Patriae
Not for ourselves but for our country

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Innovation

I've never been a fan of improv or jazz. The structure is too chaotic for me. Last night, I went to see my friend Jim Slominski jam with his buddies in Fa Crowned. To be quite honest, I thought it just sounded like a lot of loud noise when I first walked in. Once I'd been there awhile, and had relaxed, I was able to hear the way the three men played off each other. One would take off one musical direction then the others would follow, sometimes racing past. It was exciting to listen to the interplay. I was glad I adjusted my listening and could enjoy their style.

Reading can often be the same. We pick up a book with certain expectations of an author. When they aren't met, disappointment sets in. Jennifer Crusie is discussing this very thing right now.

It's all subjective. We don't all like the same things. Add to that the fact that people read for different reasons; comfort, entertainment, educational. I have books from multiple genres for a variety of moods. It's the same for music.

There's a trend to find something that works then clone the living hell out of it. Even as a writer, I look to what's popular - style, voice and subject matter. I rarely fit in that category but I've always looked to include elements that people are comfortable with.

The reality is that all of the innovation in the world won't see the light of day if it doesn't appeal to someone. It has to sell somewhere. And it's a real balancing act between originality and popularity. It's important to take chances so that we don't stagnate. Not just creatively but in every aspect of our lives.

Fortunately, I stepped away from my preferences last night and found something new. I'm going to do the same thing with an author tomorrow. Just grab something that doesn't fit into my usual pile of familiar reads. I'm certain it will make me a better writer.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dueling projects - still

The pre-writing has begun its transition. I changed my desktop photo away from the gorgeous Icelandic sunset to a rich contrast between a fern and a birch. Although both projects start in Iceland, that photo sustained me through the final stages of Hell to Pay. I needed a fresh image.

I spent a significant portion of Tuesday and Wednesday pouring information on to the page about Rootless Trees. There's a strong outline to start from. I plan to start writing the first scene from Kelli's perspective on Monday.

On Thursday I switched to Sturla's Sweater. The characters are Tess, Callie and Nick(who was first Mark then Eric). Poor Tess changed names a couple of times as she and Stashaholic argued over the correct one. Tess is very self-assured, and quite adamant that her name was one syllable. It was funny to hear the two of them get quite heated about it, when one of them is imaginary. Ouch. That head slap hurt. Tess doesn't want to meet a man. She's doing quite fine in her life without that complication. Her money, her time, and her bed are her own. NO one is messing up her schedule.

So the characters, setting, premise and turning points are there for Sturla's Sweater. The starting point hasn't jelled, before Iceland or there - but I'll just continue to jot down notes until I'm sure where the story truly begins.

I'm having fun alternating between the two projects. Neither one of them has solidified to the point where I can go full steam ahead. As both have significant time in Iceland, I've been watching a lot of video to get a feel for the location. I'd prefer to walk around there but that will have to wait. While airfare is reasonable(that's one of the perks of the Internet - quick ticket info)the travel is out of my budget. In the meantime, my imagination will have to do.

No, Tess you cannot spin camel hair. This is a book about sheep.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Brainstorming

I'm sorry the blog is a day late but I was busy watching this and then this while I was in Dayton, Ohio for the Dogs and Goddesses book signing. It was a fantastic weekend with some good friends. There was cheesecake. And margaritas. Other people saw men in uniform.

A good time was had by all. During the drive down, Me and I discussed our current projects. We brainstormed the Big Bad in Rootless Trees. That means I shot down every single suggestion she had. My reasons were valid but it was frustrating for both of us. Her ideas were sound but failed to resonate.

While shampooing my hair Saturday morning, I found the answer. Without a shower crayon in sight. I repeated it several times, rinsed, dried off and dressed quickly so that I could burst into the living room to share it with the eager masses. We ran through the Big Bad from several angles. It worked every time. We were unable to shoot holes in it. It makes sense, gives a credible backstory, sets Bracken and Kelli up for danger and makes them allies despite their conflict.

The only remaining hurdle was setting. And thanks to Jenb's generous offer to use her home on Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, I think North Carolina may be a winner. We had several conversations about the the state, its geography, environment and the beauty it has to offer. She even has a brilliant brother who can answer some of my scientific questions.

All in all, it was a great weekend.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Two projects

Right now I'm working on Rootless Trees which is connected to Heaven Coming Down and Hell to Pay. I couldn't continue with the theme in the title but as a previous post explained, this was the perfect title for Bracken and Kelli. I'm still not sure who threatens, and unites, them.

While my brain puzzles that out, it came up with another idea. Sturla's Sweater is based entirely on a film idea I was trying to sell to Stashaholic and Jon. Given that it could take two years for filming alone, it's not a project that is likely to materialize. Neither Stashaholic nor I want to be on-camera either, but the idea is so good I don't want to lose it. After a great deal of thought, I decided to write it as a book. Two women decide to make a documentary about spinning wool from fleece to sweater. Trust me, it will be fascinating.

I keep going back and forth between the two projects because neither one has solidified to the point where it can no longer be ignored. I hit a snag on one (the villain in Rootless Trees) then move onto the other where I write an outline. Until I hit a snag (better names than Stashaholic and Keziah)Back and forth I go.

Part of my dilemna is the difference in tone and genre between the two projects. The first is a paranormal romance in the vein of the other two books. Sturla's Sweater is not. It's women's fiction. Perhaps some romance and woo-woo stuff because those are elements that are integral to my identity. My story. My rules. There's nothing out there like it. I know because I looked. And while it sets me apart from the rest, publishing houses don't like to take risks. Especially not these days. So it will probably take me two years to write it(hey, we could have filmed the documentary after all) because my focus will naturally go to Rootless Trees.

What do you do when you have multiple projects?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Challenge met

Despite the dedicated procrasti-writing that I did last month, I did reach my goal for the second annual January Write off the Deep End challenge.

I finished revisions on Hell to Pay, started re-reading its predecessor Heaven Coming Down which entailed a few minor edits as well, and jotted a few notes about the successor, Rootless Trees.

Most importantly, I wrote every day.

Despite the trauma of losing my parents' dog Tara at the beginning of the month, a return of therapy for Casey, an injured wrist, a dentist trip from hell then book ending the month with a critical trip to the vet for my cat Hera, I wrote every day.

Every day. Even when it was procrasti-writing. That eventually turns into decent words on the page.

As my brilliant poet friend Jim Slominski reminded me, as writers we are ALWAYS (his caps)writing. No matter what we're doing, it's all absorbed into our psyche, which in turn gives depth to our writing.

Writing is not what I do, it's who I am.

I am a writer.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book rage

Some people suffer from road rage, I suffer from book rage. It's the curious buzzing that occurs when someone slams a genre or style of writing. I certainly have my own preferences but after working at a library for eight years I've learned that there's no such thing as "frivolous reading" as one of my colleagues suggested. Her stance is that romance is trash(red haze descended that day), that the only fiction worth reading is mystery or suspense.

In the eyes of many people romance is mindless reading or unrealistic. Because so many of us have been stalked by a serial killer and so few have ever fallen in love. Okay, I'll cut the heavy sarcasm.

Reading, whether it's a gossip magazine, scripture or anything else with words between the pages, is never frivolous. It's not mindless either. Because the very act of eyes moving across the page and brain processing those letters is far more than some people are capable of doing. Imagine what it would be like to be illiterate. Imagine no words, just symbols. Worlds of knowledge would be closed to you. Reading is a privilege.

It's also great exercise. Your brain is engaged in a myriad of ways. You learn with every single word that is revealed. It might not be earth-shattering or life-altering but it's still important. Geography, cuisine, fashion, family dynamics, astronomy, classical music, artificial intelliegence, theology, zoology; they're all subjects I've learned about from mass market fiction. Little tidbits of information are stored for future use. Because I read about a heroine who had to walk ten miles in high heels shoes during a blizzard, when traveling I've always made sure to wear footwear appropriate to the weather. That actually paid off when my car wouldn't start and I had to walk across town. Before that book I would have worn the shoes I wanted to, not the ones that were practical. Silly example but that's my point. You never know what sticks with you.

Tomorrow is Family Literacy Day in Canada. Read with a friend, even if it's not up to your usual standards. You might learn something interesting. Or not. But you'll exercise your brain regardless.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Progress?

This is what I'm working on.



It was supposed to be a quick read-through but I can't stop myself from editing. I still don't know whether Alex or Gabriela is older. I am enjoying the story. That's encouraging.

After this, back to revisions on Alex's story so that I can send it out. Kellie and Bracken continue to bubble away on the back burner while I revise and edit. Sounds painful.